David Bouchier: World On The Move

Mar 20, 2017

It’s the first official day of spring, a traditional moment of optimism and hope. As the weather improves millions of people will soon be on the move in search of a better life in the West.

Migration is a desperate measure: remember the Pilgrims, the Italians, the Irish, and all the others who came here. Nobody really wants to leave their home country, their culture and their language to start all over again. In the case of refugees from violence, political chaos, and religious madness, we should surely offer them a safe place to live in our vast open spaces.

In the case of economic migrants it’s more difficult, just because there are potentially so many of them. Hundreds of millions of people live in extremely poor countries and would prefer, very reasonably, to be somewhere else. Most of them have their eyes fixed on what is loosely called, “the West” – mainly North America and Western Europe.

What makes the West so irresistible is not reality, but a fantasy. Western television series and movies dominate the global market. They show a life of infinite wealth and leisure, huge homes full of gleaming appliances that nobody ever seems to clean or use, big cars, perfect weather, and a population of beautiful, well-dressed people who spend their lives involved in personal problems of stunning triviality, and who never seem to work. We tantalize the poor people of the world every day with images of a fantastical place that doesn’t exist, any more than the Land of Oz exists. If we set out deliberately to create dissatisfaction and unrealistic expectations over the entire planet, we couldn’t do better. No wonder so many people want to come here. No wonder they don’t try to change things at home. Why bother, when a ready-made earthly paradise is just over the western (or northern) horizon?

The Chinese leaders, who are sensitive about these culture clashes, recently warned their television stations to stop glorifying the Western lifestyle. They are determined to cut down on programs showing celebrities, billionaires, luxurious living, selfishness, violence, and intrigue. There can’t be much left worth watching on Chinese television, but whatever is left must be somewhat less tempting.

Small changes in the Western fantasy image might make a difference: for example, showing ordinary people doing real work and commuting, losing their health care, sinking under their credit card debts, harassed by insecurity, anxiety and paranoia (including paranoia about immigration), and sometimes being shot. We could distribute old episodes of “Breaking Bad” throughout the poorer countries of the world. Who would want to live within a thousand miles of those dreadful people?

A modest dose of realism wouldn’t stop poor people from migrating, of course – migration is about dreams. But the creators of dreams should take some responsibility for their consequences. In the nineteenth century millions of Europeans were lured to America by clever promotions designed to make money for railroad investors.  Some immigrants were tempted all the way to California, expecting to find paradise. Of course in that case they were right. Optimism sometimes does pay off, which is why desperate people will gamble their lives on it.

Copyright: David Bouchier